Monday, October 5, 2009

On Food and Cooking

On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee is by far the most complete and detailed work in the genre. It is fascinating and fun to read, with easy-to-understand explanations of the chemical and biological makeup of each food it covers. This book explains why and how various cooking techniques affect each food substance and how to tell when the food begins to spoil. The text's fifteen chapters cover milk and dairy, eggs, meat, fish and shellfish, edible plants, vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices, seeds, cereal doughs and batters, sugars and chocolate, alcohol, cooking methods and utensils, and lastly the four basic food molecules. Each chapter contains a breakdown of the molecules within that food, its history of domestication, the oldest recipes found that use it and explanations of how it reacts to other foods, heat and cold - on a molecular and visual level.
McGee does explains all with panache and beautiful prose - making this book as fun to read as it is informative. His obvious passion and love for food and science is felt in every line. There are even literary quotes involving food throughout the tome. I got more and more excited to cook as I read it, and could not stop myself from reading aloud to friends a few of the more astonishing tidbits of food history or chemical reactions. This book increases my confidence in the kitchen and frees me to experiment even more with ratios instead of following exact recipes. Since I now understand the purpose of including various ingredients --such as eggs for binding -- in recipes I know what I can leave out, increase, decrease or add. In short, this book explains everything the modern cook could ever want to know. I highly recommend it as a handy reference guide in the kitchen, and to all interested in the art and science of food, cooking and good eating.


  1. Oh my goodness, I'm so looking for this book at the library!

  2. You convinced me. I ordered the book from Amazon before writing this comment so I wouldn't forget to get it.

  3. This is definitely one of the most helpful books I know of when it comes to food. I don't know how many times I've said, "I wonder what Harold has to say....."